When I first started traveling, there were so many elements of doubt. I had some sort of an image in my head as to how I would hope the adventure would operate and although I had done some travel prior to this, I had never done anything on this scale, so I couldn’t be sure just how it was going to pan out.
Nevertheless, I took a very casual approach, organising couchsurfing locations only a few days prior and buying any necessary tickets on the day of travel. I relied on my extensive network of couchsurfers built up over years of hosting at home and decided to put full faith into the system.
Now, roughly six months later, my approach was, if anything, even more casual. My network of couchsurfers and the positive history that I had developed was working for me. I knew people in most parts of Western Europe and when I ventured to places where I didn’t, I inevitably managed to find someone anyway, with only a few exceptions.
I felt secure and comfortable in the knowledge that my odds of finding a roof to stay under and a welcoming presence were high. In no other place was this feeling stronger than in Paris, to where I was to finally return after my passage through the United Kingdom.
Paris had become my adopted home, always intriguing enough to come back to and never boring. It was also perfectly located in Europe, as if l’Étoile branched out even further than the Parisian limits and broadened into neighbouring cities and countries.
My contacts there were many, and what’s more they were strong. Still, I wanted to experience a bit of everything and see how different people live in this city. There was another former couchsurfer and friend by the name of Kevin that was living in Paris that I last caught up with while I was staying with Béranger.
During the night that we shared a few drinks, Kevin assured me that I was welcome to stay with him and his girlfriend Violette anytime I needed. Typically, that translates into something more along the lines of “if you give us a bit of time and we’re around the place, then you can stay a few days”. Instead I decided to trust in Kevin’s assurance and assume that there would always be a place for me to stay when I got back to Paris.
So, on the day that I left Lille, while waiting at the train station and charging my phone on an ingenious bicycle that charges such devices, I gave Kevin a call and asked if, in a few hours time, we could catch up and I could stay a few days with him.
The answer was, of course, yes.
A couple of hours later and I was back in Paris. It felt comfortable to see those streets again. No longer foreign to me. We organised to meet at Place de la République, yet another glorious square in Paris with a large monument dedicated to the Third Republic in the center.
It’s a hive of Parisian activity with all sorts of demographics represented. On a good day, the youth skateboard around the square while couples and tourists walk along. There’s typically at least one street performer somewhere doing their act and the elderly sit on benches and watch the world pass by. And there aren’t too many better places in the world to watch it pass by than this one.
I often wonder if the Parisians know how lucky they are to be a local of this fine and cultured city. Most of them will complain about the stresses, unfriendliness, cost and unbalanced work to living ratio that the city contains, but deep down, when they do get a free day and the sun comes out and they socialise with friends or family over a coffee and gaze out over the ancient streets, surely they must appreciate it’s beauty.
Eventually Kevin came to meet me, although I would have been quite content to stay there in the sunshine and enjoy the beauty of the place for another couple of hours had it been necessary. We walked to his place which was only a few hundred metres away. He himself had only recently moved into the place with Violette and admitted they were very lucky in finding a place that was so central and affordable at the same time.
I had to agree. The apartment was quite modern, newly renovated and in a superb location, just around the corner from the Canal St. Martin, another hotspot for local Parisians. We went there one night, together with some friends of Kevin and Violette. One of the great things about Europe is it’s liberty in regards to alcohol and people are quite welcome to take their own to a park or public place and enjoy it there. I was not so prepared on this occasion, but I was in good company and was fed adequate amounts of beer and wine all night.
In fact, I barely talked to Kevin that night, as his friends were very sociable and I was able to interact easily with all of them, many of which had travelled to Australia at some point in time themselves and enjoyed reminiscing about their time there.
It just so happened that during the time of this particular visit to Paris, my former couchsurfing hosts and friends Samia and Omar were moving to a new apartment. There had apparently been some violence in the area and they had been looking to move elsewhere for quite a while.
They found a modern apartment in the Valenton area, a little further outside from Paris than their previous place. I offered my help where possible, as it was the least I could do, and so on one of the days I helped them move their furniture from the old place to the new.
The area was quiet and peaceful, and in many ways it was easy to forget that it was not far from the rush of Paris. There were lots of parks nearby and the buildings were newly developed complexes – well planned out with playgrounds and shopping centres nearby. The apartment itself must have been a little bit larger than their previous, but it was much more modern, with a new kitchen and bathroom. The two were very excited to be moving into the new place.
The next night I was back with Kevin and we went to an outdoor film festival together with Violette’s friend. It was on the other side of town so we went to the supermarket, stocked up on saucisson, snacks and beers and took the métro there. It was situated in a park on the outer edge of Paris. The park was on a hill, so the movie screen was at the bottom and all could sit on the hill and have a good view.
Even though we arrived relatively early, it was quite difficult to find a large enough vacant spot on the hill for the four of us to sit, enjoy a picnic and watch the films. Eventually we managed to and the evening was a delight. There must have been four or five films in total, each lasting around twenty minutes or so. There seemed to be no theme to the films, no connection whatsoever. One was animated, another a tribute to Lisboa that brought back fond memories for me. They were all enjoyable in their own way and, in the presence of good company and good food, produced a fond memory of my travels.
As we took the métro back to Kevin’s apartment, I couldn’t help but be once again impressed by this city. There must have been thousands at the viewing that night on a picturesque hill in Paris and it was a Sunday. For Paris, this was just another evening, nothing special to brag about. It could just as well have been a Tuesday or Thursday and the same amount of people likely would have showed up. This city offers something every day of the year, often for no cost. It has a transport system that’s capable of easily transporting the people around to the various venues and, perhaps most importantly, the people that are willing to support all of these events and give reason for them to continue happening.
It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Paris, and although it was still a long way off, the more time I spent in this city, the more I grew fond to the idea of living here one day. For now though, it was time to set my sights eastwards.